Seismologist Dr. Lucy Jones talks push to make California buildings safer after earthquakes

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Thursday, June 14, 2018
Dr. Lucy Jones talks push to make buildings earthquake safe
Seismologist Dr. Lucy Jones stopped by the ABC7 studios Wednesday to talk about efforts to make buildings safer.

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Seismologist Dr. Lucy Jones stopped by the ABC7 studios Wednesday to talk about efforts to make buildings safer.

Tell us about AB 1857 and your efforts to support it.

AB 1857 is a bill proposed by Assemblyman Adrin Nazarian (D - San Fernando Valley). It just passed the assembly and it's now being considered by the senate. What it is is it's looking at changing our building codes because people think we have good building codes we must have good buildings, right?

What we have are buildings that won't kill you. But if it's a total financial loss, well that was your financial choice to make. We're creating disposable buildings. So when you go into the engineering analysis, we can make it 50 percent stronger by adding 1 percent to the cost of construction, which is not very much. There may be even better, more cost-effective ways.

So what the bill is is proposing to put together a working group to develop the building codes for what's called a functional recovery standard - recover the function of the building within a short period of time as opposed to life safety. Make sure it doesn't kill you, but the rest of it is up to you.

What we're creating right now is such a huge financial vulnerability. It really impairs the economic future of the state. I think it's something that needs to be done at the state level so that the cities aren't competing with each other on this type of thing.

Are most buildings in Los Angeles retrofitted?

AB 1857 is about new buildings, but of course we already have a lot of existing buildings. What shape are they in? Well the newest ones are - you can crawl out alive. But the older ones won't even give you that. There are a lot of buildings that we know will collapse when they get strong enough shaking and those collapses will kill people.

So that's a local jurisdiction - that's not a state level. You can't pick your building up and go to the city next door if you don't like your retrofitting. So it really works at the local level.

Los Angeles, Santa Monica and West Hollywood have all passed mandatory retrofit. There are probably dozens of other cities across the region that are in the middle of looking at how that would fit in for their cities from some of the large ones like Long Beach or small ones like Beverly Hills, Culver City, Pasadena - they're all considering this. I'm hopeful that a lot of them will move forward because this is really about people both living through the earthquake but also having a place to come home to after.

When we analyzed the San Andrews earthquake, our estimate is a quarter of a million households could lose their homes. Hundreds of thousands of people. We think we have a housing problem now - what would it be after that?

So for homeowners - what do we do?

OK, for an individual homeowner - your building is as good as the building code in place and enforced when the building was built. If that's before 1997 - we have better ways of making you safer.

Whenever I've bought a home, I've gone and gotten a foundation specialist to come in and look at a building and tell me if there's something that I could do. I've never spent more than a couple thousand dollars while doing it.